Legendary New Orleans musician Fats Domino died Tuesday at 89, the Associated Press confirms. The rock and roll pioneer died peacefully, his daughter told regional CBS affiliate WWL-TV Wednesday morning.
Born in the Big Easy in 1928, Domino — given name Antoine Domino Jr. — was the youngest of eight children and grew up in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. A prodigiously talented piano player, Domino came of age in the post-war period and became a seminal force in the development and popularization of rock and roll.
Domino began his recording career in 1949 with his first single, “The Fat Man,” which sold one million copies by 1953. Many designate “The Fat Man” as rock’s first million-selling single. The musician dominated the charts throughout the ’50s and early ’60s, catapulting nearly 40 hits into the Hot 100’s top 40 during that period. Among them was Domino’s biggest smash, “Blueberry Hill,” which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. Though Vincent Rose, Larry Stock, and Al Lewis wrote the song in 1940, it became Domino’s defining tune.
Considering the era’s racially fraught politics, Domino’s music took on a broader significance. A 1955 Down Beat article noted the diverse crowds Domino drew and famously proclaimed that he was “doing a job in the Deep South that even the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t been able to accomplish,” referring to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
Domino began his career a few years before white artists, like Elvis Presley, forayed into rock and roll. He was ambivalent as a pioneer of the genre, though. “What they call rock and roll is rhythm and blues,” he said in a 1956 interview, “and I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans.”
Domino would continue recording through the ’70s, but scaled back in the ’80s; he opted to no longer leave his native New Orleans. He continued to rack up accolades, however. In 1986, Domino was a part of the first class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, which also included Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Ray Charles. In 1987, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts.